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Vertonghen concussion latest warning that heart isn't the most critical quality

Friday 3rd May 2019
Vertonghen Tottenham Ucl Ios Mpalazzotto

It’s said that if you tell a lie enough times, it becomes the truth. Believing fallacies doesn’t make them true, just particularly effective masquerades.

Not every lie is spread maliciously. Sometimes we erroneously credit a statement as truth only to later discover the source was as human as they were honest and therefore prone to error. Greek physicians, for instance. Over two millennia ago, modern medicine’s first practitioners believed the liver controlled the nervous system and the heart your emotions.

Later, we figured out the brain handles all those functions. It receives and analyses all sensory information, from the taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream on the tongue to the touch of a sea breeze on your face as you watch the sunrise from the bow of a tacking sailboat, your limbs compensating as waves crash against the hull. It also processes printed messages telling you a dearly beloved has departed and interprets the words as your spouse asks for a divorce.

Humanity quickly dispensed with notions about the liver’s function yet still clings to the idea that the heart is our emotional centre. Doing so allows us to make exceptions for crimes of passion. As often as we say a person wasn’t in their right mind, we say they lost their head. It’s easier to accept that an outside force betrays us rather than our own mind doing us in.

Believing in the heart also gives us permission to willfully ignore the critical danger to the brain. The sight of Jan Vertonghen’s knees buckling, Tottenham teammates and manager Mauricio Pochettino hurriedly reaching out to keep him from collapsing just moments after he attempted to play on following a nasty clash of heads with defensive partner Toby Alderweireld in the Ajax 18-yard box, illustrated the point.

We know less about concussion than we do about a cat’s expressions or when our spouse will suddenly decide to call time on a relationship. Unfortunately, another lie too often told comes into play here. What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.

A rational mind understands the opposite is true. Not having [or ignoring] all the facts leads to the most disastrous outcome. Can you say Brexit? David Cameron and the Remain campaigners thought they belonged to a comfortable majority. Leavers believed every lie Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson repeatedly told.

When referee Mateu Lahoz blew his whistle as both Vertonghen and Alderweireld writhed on the ground from the impact of their collision, the former bleeding profusely, commentator Guy Mowbray, unqualified medical expert that he is, speculated crimson stains on the left-back's LilyWhite shirt lowered rather than increased the likelihood Vertonghen was concussed, that if the physios “patched him up”, he probably rather than possibly could continue.

The problem isn’t Mowbray’s medical ignorance; it’s that his first thought echoed everyone else’s, whether they were on the Tottenham sideline, in the stands or watching the broadcast. Concern for whether the player could continue emerged before any for his wellbeing.

The morning papers then rushed to protect the game’s image, proclaiming that Tottenham’s medical staff followed the correct procedures. The fact we know so little about concussions was used to rationalise what amounts to criminal negligence. FIFA, UEFA and the FA, as the game’s embodiment, are as culpable as the teams caught up in the competitive moment by allowing clubs and nations to act from self-interest at the cost of players’ future wellbeing. Independent neurologists rather than team staff should be on hand to diagnose and prescribe immediate treatment for head injuries.

Both the NFL and NHL mandate independent medical professionals at all matches. Sadly, it required legal action from surviving family members of players who died from concussion's long-term effects to implement change. Nevertheless, independent, unbiased professionals decide whether players can continue. Teams cannot interfere and must accept their recommendations. Players who might be subject to concussion are taken to quiet rooms for a short period [usually ten minutes] to see whether symptoms manifest belatedly as they did with Vertonghen. If they do, the player is held out. If they do not, he returns.

Recognising concussion’s insidious nature, IFAB [the committee that maintains the rules of the game] can ratify a concussion rule that allows teams a temporary substitution when an independent neurologist recommends concussion protocol. If the player can return, he must do so at the earliest opportunity. If he cannot or the team elects to keep him out anyway, the substitution becomes permanent. If a team has used its allotted three substitutions, the rule would not apply. Any subconscious tendency from team physios to err on the side of job security would be removed. Of all the people surrounding Vertonghen before he carried on, only the match official Lahoz showed reluctance to let the Belgian continue.

The important thing is to remove responsibility from teams with conflicting interest, not to mention the player himself. Vertonghen understandably wanted to continue. Regardless, allowing a person with a damaged mind to make the final decision to exonerate others' liability is despicable. Showing heart at the potential cost of a functioning brain must become unacceptable. The game is not life and death. Jan Vertonghen’s health is.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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